As much as it pains me (g) I have to join Camaraderie in his opinion.
Currently, the only people who are licensed are merchant marine officers. Yes, your "six pack" makes you a merchant marine officer. As with all licensing, after whatever level of training required, the only purpose is an attempt to assess competency and to have something to take away from you if you screw up. The current USCG license exams do a pretty good job, not the least of which is due to the 90% pass/fail standard on critical sections of the exams. To even imagine that such an exam would be practicable for boaters in general is beyond belief and would, rightly, be considered onerous.
Coast Guardsmen and US Navy officers are not licensed. I will not get in to my thoughts on that issue. (say, "thankyou, sailaway")
Any license that would be even marginally effective would also be prohibitively expensive. Just look at the size of your state's DMV. The expectation that licenses for boating would be any more rigorous than those for driving is more wishful thinking than realistic. And we see how well motor vehicle driver's licenses are working out in terms of roadway competency.
In fact, I would postulate that driver's licenses are, and should be considered, unconstitutional. I'll not delve into my legal reasoning for such a belief. (say, "thank God for that, sailaway") Consider the fact that every form of transportation available to you, terrestially, there is no licensing required. You just saddle up and go.
In air and sea licensing, the really rigorous examination begins where you are endeavoring to do something where the general public is at risk, and where that public has a right to consider you inherently professional. And that's reasonable I would say.
A not unreasonable fear that I, and other licensed professionals, share is the chance of being cited for some type of violation and having it discovered that I am USCG licensed. I can be proceeded against, for revocation or suspension of my Masters-oceans license, for not having the proper number of flotation cushions in my row boat while perch fishing. In much the same way that a truck driver, receiving a citation whilst driving the wife's mini-van, has that citation count against his CDL. That is patently ridiculous.
USCGret1990's point about fatalities, while heart-wrenching, is not valid. Whenever one adopts the "one life saved" standard one is opening the door to irrationality. The logical extension of this point, ie.. ad absurdum, is that we ban boating as inherently unsafe. We take the same view on driving, where we say such absurd things like, "speed kills". Which is demonstrably not true, as we have the fewest accidents on the roads with the highest speeds. Of course we are not going to ban either boating or driving, nor should we. The fact is, they are both inherently risky. We assume that risk, daily, based upon it's lack of frequency and not the severity of injury when we lose the bet.
Now for the really controversial part. Licensing makes driving, and would make boating, less safe. Say what, you say? In short, it has to do with the unpredictability factor. When a lighted traffic signal goes up at an intersection, where previously there was none, the number of accidents goes up at that intersection. The severity of the accidents goes down, but the overall number goes up. The obvious reason for this is that when two roads meet, with no signal, the approaching drivers operate with extreme caution, not knowing exactly what to expect. Where there is a traffic signal, and it turns green, the driver is completely surprised by the guy running the red light who T-bones him. Having driven in countries where there is little or no control over traffic I can testify that while it may be hair-raising, it is safer in some ways, in that everyone is really paying attention. When there is a better than even chance of hitting a cow around the next bend you tend to drive differently than if the road is fenced off as are our interstates. Now mind you, I did say safer. I did not say more efficient. We'd all be driving at half the speed we do if there were no traffic control devices. The same applies to licensing of drivers. We "assume" that the other driver is a competent licensed driver. One of the reasons kids get into so many accidents is that they are very familiar with the rules of the road and the "proper" way to drive. And so, it comes as a complete surprise to them when somebody does something that their driver's ed. instructor told them never to do. Once those kids become acclimated to the fact that they cannot trust other drivers to follow the rules of the road, they become better drivers and look out for other drivers better. Of course, that is negated by the fact that they themselves now start to pick and choose which rules of the road they will obey.
So, if we license boaters, there will be a prima facie exp-ectation of competence. The "head on a swivel" condition will go down, and more accidents will be "surprises". Instead, what we have now is a group of very nervous sailors, with boats they really can't afford, watching ever so carefully for the next SeaRay screwball who may or may not be determined on ruining our day. It is not for nothing that the words, "Hard Right" send an equal shiver down the merchant ship captain's spine, while off the bridge in the chart-room, as they do the yachtsman's, who's just stepped below to use the head. They both know that something untoward has happened and that the helmsman is taking action to avoid collision. If we are the "stand-on" vessel in a crossing situation and we have reason to believe that the "give-way" vessel is piloted with competence we do not get as nervous, as quickly, as we would when we don't know who the hell is over there and if he really knows what to do. Hence, experienced watch-standers take early and decisive action, not allowing the situation to become "in extremis" through no doing of our own.
As a licensed professional, I am very leary of "you guys". And that's probably why I've never hit one of you. I have to be licensed, you shouldn't.
“Scientists are people who build the Brooklyn Bridge and then buy it.”
Wm. F. Buckley, Jr.